Friday, February 1, 2013

Saturday Musings, 02 February 2013

Good morning -- or should I say, good evening, because it is late on Friday, not even midnight but dark, and quiet.  A life flight has just passed over the house, leaving me thinking, That's what I need; a life flight.

As our number three child said via text a few minutes ago, it has not been a good week for our family.  One son missed a treacherous curve on a country road in Tennessee and went airborne, he and his companion saved by the airbags in my husband's Ford.  The other son ran over something on a dark highway in Indiana, and found himself in a shallow ditch with two flat tires.  If our daughter had not broken an axle on her PT Cruiser a few weeks ago, we might be really nervous right now.  But neither son suffered any injury other than the tremors which follow such incidents, and the trepidation with which each called home.  I consoled one last night and one tonight; thank you, Verizon Wireless, for giving them each a mechanism with which to call AAA and Kansas City.

Everybody does this at least once, I assured each of them.  And I remember my most famous car accident, years ago, on Grand in St. Louis, in an ice storm.

I had left work early, sliding my small frame behind the wheel of my MG midget.  Sleet pummeled my windshield, defying the wipers, the sound of the cold grey against the glass sending shivers through me.  I pulled into traffic, feeling the tenuousness with which my tires found purchase on the pavement.  Moving slowly, hearing my brother's voice, Keep your foot off the brake; let your car do the work; keep your foot off the brake!  I rolled through a yellow light, not even pausing, creeping slowly forward, clenching the steering wheel with stiff icy fingers inside inadequate gloves.  I headed south, to my apartment building, on Russell, 2-1/2 blocks east of Grand.

I nearly made it.  At the intersection, with a green arrow, I started into my left turn just as a woman stepped from the curb against the crossing light.  A small figure in a long woolen coat, scarf tight around her chin, clutching her grocery bag in one hand, her pocketbook drawn against her narrow chest in the other. One foot forward, small, clumsy, in city shoes, her tights wrinkling around her ankles.  My eyes shifted rapidly back, forth, assessing my options as the world kept turning and my car kept moving forward and the sound of my brother's voice echoed over and over and over:  Keep your foot off the brake, let your car do the work, Goddammitnow, Keep your foot off the brake! But nothing about the clutch, or the ice, or the tumble of an old lady on the slick stretch of pavement in front of me.

I hit the brakes at the exact second that the woman saw me, her head turned, her eyes wide, the groceries spilling from the paper sack.  I had no choice!  And I started into my spin, going round, and round, hitting car after car, while the lady screamed, and a driver in the opposite lane of traffic laid on his horn, long, relentless and loud.

My little car stopped on top of a No Parking Sign.  As I spun round and round, I had hit five vehicles.  Towards the end of my wild whirl, the fallen woman struggled from the ground, the harsh sounds of her panic filling the air as she frantically gathered rolling apples and brushed the snow from her vinyl handbag.  A young boy stood at her side, patting her arm with his red mittens, asking if he could help.  I could have been killed! she screamed, grabbing her arm away from him.  Did you see her? She almost hit me! I could have been killed!

I got out of my car, and stood next to the open driver's door.  Someone ran to a nearby business and called the police; somebody else hurried the woman to the far side of the intersection.   She fled north on Grand and no one thought to stop her.  Several people parked.  Somebody put a blanket on my shoulders.  Somebody else brought me something to drink that felt like fire going down but startled me from my stupor.  I leaned against the frame of my little green car as the sirens grew closer, and the light above me turned from red, to green, to yellow and back to red, an endless cycle of direction that no one heeded.

None of the people whose cars I hit would give me their names.  The worst damage was to my own vehicle and the city sign.  I got a ticket for destruction of city property.  On the day of the court appearance, I stood below a high, dark bench and told the old judge my story.  He looked down at me for a few minutes, then put the little bundle of papers aside.  Go see the city clerk, he instructed.  Ask her what it will cost to fix the sign, then come back.

When I got to the clerk's office, a lady came forward, her arm in a sling.  She furrowed her brow, studying my ticket.  You ran over a sign?  It seemed as though nobody else had ever done such a bold thing to something owned by the City of St. Louis.  I told her my story.  She looked at me then, really looked at me, fixing her watery grey eyes on my face.  See this cast, she said, gesturing.  The day of that ice storm, I fell on a sidewalk and broke my arm. I waited.  So you're telling me, it was basically the old lady or the sign.  I shrugged.  I'm gonna charge you twenty-five bucks for that sign, she decided.  Between the lady and the sign, I think you made the right choice. She wrote something down, initialed it, and handed it back. She turned away before I could  express any thanks.

I went back upstairs with the little chit and handed it to the judge.  He scribbled something on it, and handed it to somebody at another table, a lower one, maybe a bailiff, and that person scribbled something of his own and gave me another little chit which I took to somebody in another room.  A few weeks later, I got a bill for twenty-five dollars and I paid it.  

I waited a month, but the sign never appeared.  I called the lady in the clerk's office.  She sent a supervisor out, and he stood on the corner with me, looking at the hole in the ground where the No Parking sign should have been.  I looked too.  Spring threatened all around us, with balmy breezes, and the first pale green buds on the forsythia bushes of the nearest house.  I stood there with him for a few minutes, remembering my first sublet in that very building, one room of the first floor which had been cut into four living spaces.  My little corner had been formed by blocking the arch of the dining room with a tall, wide bookcase.  French doors opened to the former entry-way of what once had been a grand home.  The lady who owned the house had the only bathroom.  She would let you use it but she stood outside while you did, and when you had finished, she fussed with the towels like she thought you had contaminated them.  I lived there for three months, between my freshman and sophomore years in college.  I didn't have a car then.  I rode the Grand bus to and from the University.  At night, I sat by the window and wondered how anyone's life could be so sad.

The supervisor promised that the sign would be replaced, and it was.  But by that time, I had moved to another apartment, further south, and had gotten rid of the MG in favor of an automatic, an old Chevy Nova that I bought from my cousin Angela.  It handled much better on ice.

A text sounds on my cell phone.  The little Kia has been towed to a garage in Greencastle and its driver is back on campus.  I am sure both Patrick and his stepbrother Mac will remember this week for a long time to come. As for their maternal unit, well, though I concur it has been a bad week, I am very sure that it could have been worse.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.